In his feature film directorial debut, Theodore Melfi has the privilege of working with the ever-classic Bill Murray in the feel good comedy “Saint Vincent.” It is hard to picture another aging actor in Hollywood who can pull off the grumpy but still loveable curmudgeon better than Murray. Flanked by a clever performance from newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, the son Murray never wanted, and a somewhat docile Melissa McCarthy as a struggling single mother, the film will take you from extreme laughter to cheerful tears. Naomi Watts also brings noteworthy sentiment as a pregnant “lady of the night” whose love for Murray transcends the almighty dollar.
In the middle of a bitter divorce, Maggie (McCarthy) moves her witty, charismatic 12-year old son Oliver (Lieberher) to a new home and school in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn. Feeling the financial strain of the move and overcompensating at work, Maggie goes against her better judgment and trusts Vincent (Murray) with taking care of her son for a few hours after school. Vincent jumps at the chance, as he seemingly, although never explained, owes money all over town, most noticeably to a bookie by the name of Zucko (Terrence Howard), who tracks Vincent’s successes and failures at the Belmont Park horse racing track.
Vincent is a deeply disturbed Vietnam veteran, gambling addict and alcoholic who acts as the quintessential grouch in order to avoid real connections. His commitment to his ill wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell) which includes unnecessarily doing her laundry and weekly trips to her nursing home reveal the fact that Vincent’s pain is deeper than he allows outsiders to understand. Oliver’s polite demeanor and desperate need for a manly figure in his life gradually and charmingly chip away at Vincent’s emotional wall. After some anticipated but somewhat unexpected drama, we get to see Vincent at his weakest moment. As the audience begins to turn their back on the struggling grouch, Oliver reminds us that sometimes we need to look beyond the surface.
Conventional and borderline cheesy content relies heavily on Murray’s ability to make the average seem brilliant. There are certain people who were born to entertain and Bill Murray is and always will be on that short list.
The strategically planned filming locations and again, Murray’s brilliance, as a Brooklyn native, created a very authentic, gritty feeling for a typical member of the Sheepshead Bay community. Lieberher’s performance showed chops that were experienced beyond his years as he confidently handles the pressure of going toe to toe with a Hollywood legend. Naomi Watts’ portrayal of prostitute Daka was the real surprise performance of the film. Daka begins the story as nothing more than a money-hungry hustler but her strength, sarcasm and loyalty to Vincent constructs tangible change in her personality.
The real draw to this picture is Murray’s performance and there may be some Oscar buzz in the future. As they say, “you will laugh, you will cry” and you may learn something about yourself.